This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Law and Order Surveillance in China

"This is potentially a totally new way for the government to manage the economy and society. The goal is algorithmic governance."
"The whole point is that people don't know if they're being monitored, and that uncertainty makes people more obedient."
"[People follow rules simply because they don't know whether or not they are being watched.]"
Martin Chorzempa, fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economies

"If you are captured by the system and you don't see it, your neighbours or colleagues will, and they will gossip about it."
"That's too embarrassing for people to take."
Guan Yue, critic of government surveillance videos
Tiananmen square security surveillance cameras China
Security cameras look out over Tiananmen Square before Tiananmen Gate. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

In fact, news media everywhere in the world cover various types of local and national and international events, naming names when people are apprehended or suspected of involvement in illicit activities or crimes. Naming culprits does have the effect of shaming those who can be shamed when those who know them see them identified with anti-social and criminal acts. China, it would appear, is increasingly using artificial intelligence paired with closed circuit videos in a vigilance program that is meant eventually to cover the entire 1.4-billion population within its borders.

Several decades ago when Britain embarked on a national installation program of closed circuit video cameras in the public arena it was both praised and criticized as an initiative in support of law and order and/or intrusion into the public/private sphere. That type of public surveillance is common now throughout the world in the public areas of cities. Before that, Japan as an example, had police 'boxes' located at intersections throughout Tokyo where police were actively stationed; if someone moved into the neighbourhood the police would be advised and often made a quick casual 'visit' of introduction to the newcomer. Crime is low in Tokyo.

Wearing facial recognition glasses in Zhengzhou, a heroin smuggler was identified at a train station by a police officer. "In the past, it was all about instinct", commented Shan Jun, deputy chief of police in the prefecture. "If you missed something, you missed it", he said of the capture of the heroin smuggler at the railway station. In some of China's great metropolis's, cameras scan train stations for most-wanted criminals. Displays show faces of jaywalkers with people's names who haven't paid debts, on billboard-sized displays.

Police were enabled to grab two dozen criminal suspects in the midst of an annual beer festival in Quingdao, thanks to surveillance cameras, and in Wuhu, a fugitive murder suspect was captured on camera and identified as he bought a meal from a street vendor. Millions of cameras and billions of lines of code are enabling China to build its high-tech future of authority and apprehension of the criminal element in society.
Security cameras China

Security cameras hang on a lamp at Tiananmen Square, Beijing.   Feng Li/Getty Images

China has installed an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras, representing four times the number that the United States has installed for its own similar purposes of good order and security. Of course, China has more than four times the population of the United States to monitor. China already tracks Internet use and communications, hotel stays, train and plane trips and in some areas, travel by car. The surveillance system is vast and fairly reliable but not yet has it achieved complete efficiency, yet the awareness of its capability has succeeded in convincing the population they are under scrutiny, having the effect of ensuring people react accordingly.

Invasive mass-surveillance software in the west has been installed for the purpose of tracking activities of the Uighur Muslim minority, even mapping out their relations with friends and family. The restive minority is seen as a threat to China's interests. Intersections in cities that were once nightmares to manoeuvre around have seen a marked decrease in outlawed jaywalking and as a result fewer accidents. The result of cameras linked to facial recognition technology alongside a large outdoor screen where photos of lawbreakers get displayed along with name and government ID.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has undertaken a broad-based crackdown on corruption, a the same time launching a major upgrade of China's surveillance state. Coincidentally China is now the world's largest security and surveillance technology market. Analysts estimate that another 100 million cameras will be installed by 2020. In scale and investment China's technology boom challenges that of California's Silicon Valley.

The national database of individuals flagged for surveillance includes suspected terrorists, criminals, drug traffickers, and political activists, along with others. The database is inclusive of between 20 to 30 million individuals, too many for today's facial recognition technology to be able to control for, just yet. But that little detail is left a state secret; as far as the public is concerned, the long visual arm of the government is intact and competently traces everything that might conceivably go awry -- and citizens react accordingly.

1. Using facial recognition technology that can pick people out of massive crowds.
A crowded railway station in Guangzhou, southern China.

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